Sam Seder debated Yaron Brook on free markets (broadly speaking). The debate is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exHYiLDLq4E
The debate was very friendly - so I don’t know why the thumbnail chosen tries to make Yaron look angry and intense (he wasn't, it was all quite relaxed) and Sam look as if he’s bored or dealing with an ignoramus:
Here are some time stamps and my reflections on things.
Around 8 mins 30sec: Sam basically argues the government confers rights on people. Yaron argues the case that we are born with rights and the role of the government is to protect them.
I’d say: Rights exist ontologically: they are there in reality. We come to understand these rights better over time.
The relationship between courts and rights is isomorphic with the relationship between scientists and the physical world. The former explains and interprets the latter. But the latter exist independently of whether anyone knows about them. Coming to know about them takes effort and does not detract from their actual independent existence. It is not the government that creates rights for people anymore than it creates electrons or trees.
10:30 - Yaron explains the role of government is settling properly rights disputes.
11:00: Sam suggests that *because* courts (the government) makes the decision in a property rights dispute that therefore they create the rights.
My comment: this is the error of conflating what exists with our knowledge of it. Ontology vs epistemology.
19:30 Sam argues that we owe something to the government because they built infrastructure. Yaron points out that they should not have and in an ideal world would not.
My comment: when they do, the infrastructure is worse. Toll roads are better than free roads. If all roads were private there would be motivation to fix the potholes that otherwise go years without repair (for example). Yaron also observes that great technological advances like electricity and the steam engine did not require large government funding projects.
22:00 Sam suggests that slavery is a product of free markets. Yaron explains that slavery is a moral abomination - which is the main thing - but besides it was not economically the best thing anyway. It wasn't good for the people employing slaves (morally or economically, ultimately) and certainly not for the broader society.
My comment: Those slaves are people (as if this needs to be said) - and capitalism is a system for the free interactions between people and those people would have contributed much more to “the economy” and to wealth creation broadly if they were engaged in free contracts as capitalism says is morally right. Wealth creation today without slaves proceeds faster than in places that keep slaves. Slavery only happens when governments intervene with laws that deny the inherent human rights of people rather than protecting those rights.
23:30 Sam continues to bring up slavery each time Yaron agrees it's terrible and has nothing to do with what he is arguing.
My comment: The line taken by Sam is incongruous because Yaron is arguing for free markets. Free markets is about freedom *for everyone*. You need a government - a central authority - to deem slavery as a good. It is not a product of free markets - it is the opposite. But anyway: they both disagree with slavery - it is a moot point.
25:40 Sam argues the internet is proof government investment is sometimes needed to give us nice things. My comment: This is reminiscent of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s claim that *only* an entity like NASA could have done space travel. Yet now there are many private companies doing it. Imagine how much sooner we might have got to the moon if taxes were way lower and innovation therefore faster in the early 20th century?
26:30: Yaron and Sam debate the extent to which covid vaccines can be attributed to government funding. My comment: absent government imposts - regulations and taxation - of the pharmaceutical industry and government/socialist maligning of “the profit motive” and the entire industry: we’d have had these vaccines sooner. Maybe decades ago we’d have had covid vaccines *for the common cold* that could have helped with Covid-19.
Yaron says the government was an obstacle at every moment: private enterprise could not develop tests like they wanted to. Centrally planned vaccinations are worse than free markets.
29:45: Yaron: Government is nothing but force/coercion. It is only justified in self defence. It should not be involved in determining what research is done, what gets built, what gets funded and so on.
31:00 Sam brings up roads and the postal service. He says private corporations are “only for profit”. There exist medical interventions which are only available to a small number. Yaron talks about certain medications being regulated by government - eg anti-arthritis drugs taken off the market because the FDA deems the 10% increase in heart disease is too great a risk rather than leaving this decision between the patient and their doctor.
My comment: The drug being referred to is perhaps called Bextra: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valdecoxib But later they say it’s Vioxx. It seems the FDA has done this sort of thing over and again. Taken a drug off the market when they say the side effects are too bad for ANYONE to risk. But why can't we evaluate risk ourselves? Isn't that what we do in most situations? What food to buy and consume? Whether, to what extent and how we choose to drive in cars? To engage in sports that may be dangerous? To engage in bungee jumping or not? Hiking or not? Mountain climbing? Life is risky. Medicines can be risky. Why should the government be the thing that determines what level of risk is acceptable? How can they know? They are just error prone fallible people like the rest of us. Indeed more so, in some sense, as their "problem situation" is not ours - they do not have the relevant knowledge the individual is using in their context to assess the risk given their personal circumstances.
In terms of Sam's complaint that some interventions are only available to small numbers of people: someone has to pay to begin with. Either we force everyone to pay or let billionaries/the wealthy pay *first* so that then the price comes down. Like the history of computing and space travel. The history of medicine is a history of new treatments first being expensive and then quickly rising "to scale" such that the price decreases. Government getting involved slows all this down.
34:00 Sam brings up the opiod epidemic. Yaron says all drugs should be legal and if you want to abuse them, that’s on you. Sam says the companies deceived doctors about how addictive the drugs are. My comment: we are all beings of reason. Reason is not deployed best by central authorities. People need to correct their own errors. Yaron: people need to be taught to take personal responsibility. The FDA causes corruption among doctors...
My comment: ...because they are effectively outsourcing their critical thinking so that if the FDA says something is “safe” then they think this means it’s completely safe. They aren’t looking at the evidence that they are trained to look at and some might say is their duty to read, consult and evaluate.
38:00. Sam asks how people can get reliable information about the danger of a drug, after all if you google "mRNA vaccines" a lot of information is there telling you it’s unsafe. Yaron says: use your mind.
My comment: Yes, there are ways of evaluating information. People should take personal responsibility. It’s not like tomorrow we can eliminate the FDA. We need to slowly undo it and have society learn how to check sources. Also: you can have private enterprise check some of this stuff if you yourself have a good explanation about the methods of that private enterprise. Eg: there exists something in Australia called “Choice Magazine”. It’s not a government run thing - but it evaluates goods and services for a subscription fee. Ideally there would be lots of competing organisations that evaluate the safety and efficacy of things so that one central authority (like an FDA) on the one hand doesn't make mistakes on behalf of everyone and thus risk hurting everyone when they do err and on the other hand do not have authority to bring police action against those who disagree with their claims of risk, safety and so on.
38:30 Sam argues that the FDA is needed because people can’t be experts in everything.
My comment: indeed. But this is not an argument for an authority. The FDA is just as prone to mistakes and bad incentives as anything else. Either we have a plurality of approaches to knowledge or we have centralised authorities. I would prefer multiple approaches.
Yaron: it should not be up to the central authority to give thumbs up or thumbs down.
Sam says that absent the FDA one would “trust” pharmaceutical companies.
My comment: I sense both Yaron and Sam see value in “trust” as a metric for evaluating knowledge..at least sometimes (like when you lack the knowledge yourself and need to turn to an expert). Namely: can you trust the source? Of course neither are for a Popperian view of knowledge as being objective (not about feelings or personal "certainty" or "confidence" and critical. Namely: that it's never about sources. It is about identifying and correcting errors - that way you make progress. People who think there are other kinds of epistemology get into long debates about which source is reliable and which source has more authority or which source contains "the truth" and so on. But if you give up the question of: by what authority can we deem this as the best source of knowledge (which, by the way includes our senses - because they too are fallible) then what we focus on is evaluating claims by the means of identifying errors. And once those errors are identified then we can correct them. Once we correct them we have made progress and generated some knowledge we did not have before and at no point did we have to argue over who had a more reliable source. We just concluded, for the purpose of some discussion, that this claim contained errors that this one did not. Correcting errors means we converge on the truth and can come to an agreement until such time as a new problem arises.
42:00 Yaron and Sam debate the building collapse in Miami. Sam blames the private construction. Yaron brings up government building inspectors that went into that building multiple times and said it was safe. The point is: nothing can perfectly guard against error but at least the private company is incentivised not to kill its customers. There is no incentive for a government inspector to be exceedingly careful. Yaron asks: who has an interest in the building not collapsing? The building owners have a much greater incentive. The insurance company also has huge incentives. Yaron rightly says: errors are going to happen. Quite right: what is the best way to identify and correct errors? People with an interest (“skin in the game”) or a busy regulator who has 10 buildings a day to check.
46:00 Sam says that the difference between him and Yaron morally is that he, Sam, thinks it the job of society to mitigate the suffering of others. Yaron says: yes - that is a difference. Yaron thinks it fine if YOU want to help “society” but when you then claim the force of the government over me to coerce me into helping you help society - that’s wrong. You are then imposing your values (about which we have a dispute) on me. Yaron’s perspective is: that is wrong.
I would just add: if one cannot persuade by argument, this is no reason to insist force must then be used. But Sam would say some things are more important. And this is where the force always comes in. Socialists cannot win the argument by persuasion and so this is why they resort to force. Capitalism simply says: persuade me (to purchase your good or service) - under no circumstances force me to hand over money to a product, service provider or cause without convincing me first. Socialists bring a gun to the table and say "Is this convincing enough?".
49:00 They return to the issue of a drug being banned by the FDA. Yaron says it should always be between him and his doctor to evaluate the risks and benefits. Sam says “but you’re smarter than most people”. Yaron disagrees and says he has a higher opinion of others.
My comment: this is a deep point of difference rarely explored. Those on the left have a terribly low opinion of their fellows. They fear others make terrible mistakes and the government has a duty to prevent them making errors. Thus we have “safetyism” - they rope off areas around small bumps in the ground, they put warning signs at the entrance to national parks, they think it good that the “experts” in authority in the government deem things safe or not because the average person is too stupid to think for themselves. The fact is “we are all equal in our infinite ignorance” and only differ in the small bits of knowledge we do have. But we can always make errors. Including the government authorities. So in that situation it is always better to have a plurality of approaches to any situation than to have the authority deem one approach as the true approach. The case of what drugs should or should not be legal to take is exactly that. It is strange, therefore, where the left will argue for the liberalisation of marijuana or even other recreational drugs but insist that medicines which might have some risk be heavily regulated or banned. Is Sam for banning marijuana? Or even aspirin given then number of deaths each year? About 21 people die per million doses of aspirin: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16086703/#:~:text=Death%20rate%20attributed%20to%20NSAID,to%20low%2Ddose%20aspirin%20use.
50:00 they finish in a very civil and friendly way.
Afterwards: Sam (now joined by his co-host) are fixated on the idea that drug and building regulation is proof positive the government is needed. They miss the point that even with the government regulation people die from drugs and building collapses and ignore Yaron’s argument that in part this could be attributed to people becoming too lazy in their thinking, forgoing personal responsibility and not thinking more carefully because they think the government makes errors at a rate less than individuals do. I would say that although institutions contain knowledge - often inexplicit- about how to ensure society runs smoothly while undergoing rapid change, this does not refute Yaron’s claim because in the case of regulations of buildings and drugs it is not in the interest of companies to kill or injure their customers.
Sam makes fun of the notion that people *should* “bone up” on medicines, learning about evaluating data and so on. Is it that silly? He is making fun of people being expected to learn about things that might have a major effect on their life. For example: learning about the side effects of medicines they are prescribed. Sam almost seems to talk himself out of his own position at 52:00mins where he pretends to be a doctor telling a patient that “3 out of 100 people who take this have a heart attack - here it is!”. But isn’t that precisely what happens? We would then look into those 3 people. Were they elderly? The other 97, were they cured of whatever ailed them? Etc. None of this seems an argument for the government being involved. Why “the government”? Why not other researchers? Again: why isn’t it just you and your doctor talking about the risks and making a judgement. Why should it be a bureaucrat who has never met you or know your situation be making a judgment long ago about what is best for you now? Sam almost seems to get this.
52:40: Sam says “Folks you’ve got a lot of reading to do.” This is a swipe at Yaron for telling people to take personal responsibility. Again, as if "you've got a lot of reading to do" means there is too much to know, you cannot possibly know everything. But - once more - it presumes the people in the government have done the reading (reliably!) and are better placed to evaluate for all circumstances and they are less prone to error. They are not. Indeed because they have no personal interest, they might not be focussed on the relevant information.
Slavery is brought up again. They talk about exploiting free labor. It is almost always the case that socialists think slavery is a product of capitalism. They do not understand that capitalism is the opposite to slavery. Capitalism is the theory that markets be free - that there is no coercion and that individuals can trade without coercion between each other. Slavery is coercion. It is taking a person and denying them the capacity to engage freely in the market. It is astonishing that the opposite to capitalism is said to be identical to it. It reminds me of people who claim critical rationalism is “dogmatic”. The very epistemology that refutes dogma is said to be identical to it. It is just like describing abstinence as a sexual position or starving yourself as an ideal form of nutrition. Capitalism is freedom. Socialism is the economic system where you must someones do work only for the benefit of someone else. That is far closer to slavery. Slavery is where you always and only work for someone else - it’s never voluntary. Socialism is where at least some of the hours or days you work each week are for paying taxes. Some of the money you earn is not for you - it’s for someone else. There is nothing voluntary about it. You cannot leave the system. It is, therefore, a compulsory non-voluntary system. Capitalism is where you work and the fruits of that work - your earnings - you keep. All of it. And you can leave anytime. You are not compelled to do things you don’t want to. You freely enter into an agreement - a contract.
Sam makes some remarks on morality. He says that libertarianism is about denying empathy or concern with human suffering. Sam talks about how if people choose to not get health insurance then under Yaron’s ideas those people would die. Yes. But in that world people would come to learn you need to have health insurance. It’s rather like “if you don’t buy food and water you’ll die of starvation”. Yes. What should we have? Government force feeding people because they are too ignorant to take care of it themselves? But, by the way, in the very rare cases people cannot feed themselves, private charities do indeed help people. Even in systems with “universal health care” (or something like it) not everything is covered and in those cases then private charities do indeed come to fill in the gaps. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone was taxed less so that if you did become aware of a serious condition you had that then you would have the money saved because you’d not spent the last 20 or 30 years paying other people’s healthcare via your taxes?
Sam has a swipe at Yaron in the last minute about not going into depth on anything. I think this was an unfair comment and only undermines his otherwise good, friendly and honest encounter throughout the discussion.
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